Why Banks And Financial Institutions Must Increase Cybersecurity Measures During the Festive Season With the rampant increase in purchasing activities, online payment platforms are at a greater risk of succumbing to the hostile attacks of cyber-miscreants

By Rakesh Kharwal

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As the holiday season returns with its customary pomp and splendor, a surge in e-commerce, retailing and e-banking proceedings are widely expected. With the festive fever gripping the nation and the volume of online and offline transactions rising substantially, cybercriminals are provided with the perfect opportunity to intensify the scale of cyberattacks on financial institutions, organizations and even individuals. With the rampant increase in purchasing activities, online payment platforms are at a greater risk of succumbing to the hostile attacks of cyber-miscreants.

The financial and retail sectors continue to be the primary targets of malicious threat actors who are relentless in their efforts to steal hi-rated assets, money, and valuable data. The distractions that are typical to the festive season can render financial institutions offguard, thus, soliciting an ideal time for cybercriminals to put their nefarious schemes into action.

The exponential rise in technology and infrastructure has equipped various cyber masterminds such as super stealthy APT (advanced persistent threats) actors, state-sponsored campaigns, hacktivists, etc., with a formidable arsenal comprising the latest toolkits, techniques, and innovations for conducting large-scale attacks on financial institutions. As per a report by MarketsandMarkets, the global digital payments sector is slated to grow from $79.3 billion in 2020 to $154.1 billion by 2025, at a CAGR of 14.2 per cent.

It is no surprise then the sheer technological tenacity and hi-research planning utilized by the threat players for executing a hi-level cyber strike. With assets worth billions at stake, it is imperative that these organizations fortify themselves with the latest cybersecurity solutions and advanced architecture for effective threat neutralization.

Besides the fact that holiday seasons usher in a certain level of complacency in the security structures of any institution, there are other factors too that make financial organizations a high-risk target for every cybercriminal. As payment and financing vectors are fast converging at the thresholds of end-to-end digitization, a notable bulk of transactions around the world are being carried out exclusively via online modes. Under such circumstances, payment companies and finance apps naturally become data-reservoirs, amassing colossal amounts of sensitive personal data and user information.

Therefore, cybercriminals are always manipulating ways to bypass the security systems of these companies and steal the unique digital fingerprints of users to gain access to hi-value data and funds. The high liquidity character of a bank's stolen database when sold in underground black markets on the internet by the cybercriminals generates enormous value and thus creating a massive impetus for cyberattackers.

Other aspects such as disparaging net-neutrality laws, user-data consolidation among a small number of companies, cybersecurity fatigue and defense lapses due to holiday-time negligence, increased dependence on interconnected devices, and the low levels of cybersecurity due to the incumbent pandemic-induced WFH lifestyle are also equally responsible for banking companies witnessing an ever-burgeoning threat matrix. Moreover, the involvement of hostile nation-states in supporting many state-sponsored threat actors and hacktivists cannot be ruled out. There have been various instances of rogue countries financing highly trained and resourceful cybercriminals for targeting global banks and financial institutions to escalate geopolitical tensions and market disruptions, especially during bank holidays. Therefore, banking companies and digital payment organizations need to step up their cybersecurity fortifications and defensive measures during the holiday season.

The financial sector continues to be the foremost target for various cybercriminals, cyber-espionage groups, state-level threat players and hacktivists. With cyberattackers purporting to strike deep within the defenses of these institutions with the intent to steal or sabotage, these organizations must observe a maximum-security schedule during the festive season. Bank holidays offer a perfect setting for cybercriminals to bypass security structures and remain undetected for larger periods. This allows them to install backdoors that help the auction of the breached data assets, marshal additional strikes, and relocate stolen funds. Thus, banks and financial companies must ensure consummate vigilance on sanctioned off-days.

Secondly, even after the cybersecurity team has tackled and neutralized a data breach, the possibility of future attacks only stands to increase. Therefore, to address the complacency of banking companies, various international regulatory bodies even levy a significant penalty in case an institution fails to update its cybersecurity fortifications even after repeated warnings beforehand. Thirdly, it is equally important for organizations to closely view their cyber insurance policies as basic insurance does not necessarily translate into having your assets fully covered.

Lastly but most importantly, Cyber-security models should be based on threat priority and financial companies must take heed of their defensive experts and invest accordingly. The top-level company executives as the security overseer need to directly scrutinize the various threat matrix in play and direct investments for cyber defensive frameworks. This can be achieved through a sustained and dedicated cyber-security training module that leverages real-time simulations and hands-on experiential programs to enable an effectual cybersecurity cover. It is also advisable to map these cybersecurity training programs to the NICE (National Initiative for Cybersecurity Education) KSAs to ensure the cybersecurity professionals are training to the highest standard. Therefore, to effectively cope up with the hi-frequency and hi-penetration range of the cyberattacks in present times, banks and financial institutions must optimize salient and cutting-edge threat-based cybersecurity models.

Rakesh Kharwal

Managing Director - India/South Asia & ASEAN, Cyberbit

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